Tag Archives: Dylan Larkin

Detroit Red Wings 2018-19 Season Preview

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Detroit Red Wings

30-39-13, 73 points, 5th in the Atlantic Division

Additions: G Jonathan Bernier, D Jake Chelios, F Wade Megan, G Harri Sateri, F Chris Terry, F Thomas Vanek

Subtractions: D Adam Almquist (signed, SHL), F Colin Campbell (signed with Grand Rapids Griffins, AHL), G Jared Coreau (signed with ANA), F Turner Elson (signed with Grand Rapids Griffins, AHL), F Matt Lorito (signed with NYI), G Matej Machovsky (signed, ELH), G Tom McCollum (signed with Milwaukee Admirals, AHL), F Zach Nastasiuk (signed with Charlotte Checkers, AHL), D Xavier Ouellet (buyout, signed with MTL), D Dan Renouf (signed with CAR), F Ben Street (signed with ANA), F Eric Tangradi (signed with NJ)

Still Unsigned:  F David Booth, F Matt Puempel

Re-signed: F Andreas Athanasiou, D Mike Green, F Dylan Larkin, F Anthony Mantha

Offseason Analysis: Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland is standing put this offseason. Tell me if you’ve already heard this story before.

Despite finishing 5th in the Atlantic Division (only two spots out of a playoff spot), Detroit was not at all a playoff contender by any means last season. The same remains true for 2018-19, unfortunately for Red Wings fans.

However, unlike most rebuilding teams this offseason, Detroit had a tremendous draft– landing Filip Zadina at 6th overall. Both Zadina and the Red Wings are ready to prove at least two or three other teams that passed over him wrong.

Holland didn’t just land one great pick that slipped down the order, but two with his second pick of the first round at 30th overall in Joe Veleno.

Re-signing Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha protected the Red Wings core, while bringing in Jonathan Bernier as a backup provides stability in the crease behind Jimmy Howard.

Rebuilding is a long, slow process, but Detroit is ready to speed things up a bit as they look to get younger in the right places. One thing that’s holding them back, however, is their commitment to lateral moves during this time period.

Thomas Vanek is back (for now– just wait until the trade deadline, though he really wants to stay in a winged-wheel sweater) and so is Mike Green. Frans Nielsen is still on the books with his NMC/NTC strapped contract and the blueline at Little Caesars Arena continues to age– without Xavier Ouellet in the picture after Holland used a buyout on the 25-year-old defender reaching his prime.

Holland’s plans for next offseason have to include some kind of restructuring on the back end with four defenders aged 32-plus.

Regardless, 2018-19 is poised to be an average disappointment as a placeholder season while Zadina and Co. gain experience. Detroit is at least competitive enough to lose games by one, two or three goals instead of 5-0 blowouts every other night.

Any experience is good experience, but playoff hopes should be on hold for at least one more season Red Wings fans (because otherwise, they’d be making an early exit for sure).

Offseason Grade: C

Ken Holland didn’t do much, but rather just enough to potentially set the Red Wings up for landing a goldmine in the 2019 offseason. With that in mind, Detroit should line themselves up for another high-end draft pick next June and trying to land a top UFA in 2019.

This season, however, the focus remains on finding a focus. Fix an aging defense, find the next Jimmy Howard and set sights on having younger guys inserted into the lineup.

Could Jeff Blashill be on the hotseat this season? Sure. For better or worse. It’s really not the coaching in Detroit that’s the problem. It’s an average to below average roster that’s continuing to age in a tight salary cap (but again, there’s hope for some serious restructuring next offseason).

Down the Frozen River Podcast #118- Bad Puns

The Original Trio analyze the Jeff Skinner trade, recent one year extensions, upcoming jersey retirement nights, 2018-19 Calder Memorial Trophy predictions and more.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify.

2018 Offseason Preview: Detroit Red Wings

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Detroit Red Wings and their outlook for the summer.

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After missing the playoffs for the first time in over a quarter of a century, the Detroit Red Wings have only begun phase one of what looks to be a longer rebuild than some of the other recent rebuilds in the league– but one offseason, this offseason, can change the pace.

Detroit finished 5th in the Atlantic Division with a 30-39-13 record and 73 points on the season in 2017-18. While that’s two places removed from a divisional spot in the current Stanley Cup Playoff format, keep in mind that 73 points would put them just ahead of the Arizona Coyotes and tied with the Vancouver Canucks in the overall league standings.

So things, while they may seem otherwise, are pretty dire in the Red Wings organization.

Short of trading Petr Mrazek to the Philadelphia Flyers for Philadelphia’s stretch run to the postseason, the Red Wings didn’t make much news in the headlines or noise around the league.

General Manager Ken Holland signed a two-year extension in April to remain as Detroit’s general manager through the 2019-20 season and looks to see this rebuild through in his tenure with the franchise.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

The Red Wings currently have two first round picks in the Draft as part of seven total picks in the first three rounds (two firsts, two second round picks and three third round picks).

Pending any transactions, Detroit is expected to select 6th and 30th overall (via the Vegas Golden Knights, thanks to the Tomas Tatar deadline deal).

They’ll likely search for help on the blueline in Quintin Hughes, Evan Bouchard or Adam Boqvist with the higher of the two picks and could very well utilize any of the five other picks in the first three rounds on either prospects or additions to the current roster via a trade.

Author’s note (for those interested): Detroit has their own first round pick, Vegas’s first round pick, their own second round pick, Ottawa’s second round pick, their own third round pick, Philadelphia’s third round pick and Pittsburgh’s third round pick in the first three rounds of the 2018 Draft.

Pending free agents

Despite a lot of no-trade-clauses and no-movement-clauses to work around, the Red Wings have almost $17.4 million in cap space this summer and five pending-restricted free agents to re-sign, including Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha.

It’s imperative that Holland finds a trading partner or two to ship out one or more of the players with NTCs or NMCs willing to waive their clause(s), because Larkin’s next deal alone (both in cap and clauses) could very well strap the team in a wedge of roster components that they cannot otherwise move around.

Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Gustav Nyqvist present themselves as viable options to move with Helm, 31, and Abdelkader, 31, having to waive their NTCs before agreeing to any deal and Nyqvist as a 28-year-old rental player with one-year remaining on his current contract.

Anthanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi, Martin Frk and Mantha are several key components to the club moving forward and should all be re-signed, while pending-unrestricted free agent forward, David Booth, likely could hit the open market.

On defense, the Red Wings currently have three blueliners age 34 and older in the likes of Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley and Niklas Kronwall.

Ericsson and Kronwall are two cornerstones of Detroit’s defense in both their tenure with the team in addition to their veteran presence, while Daley was signed last July after winning a couple of Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins. All three have some form of an NTC and are signed at a combined cap hit of $12.167 million next season, with Kronwall only signed through the end of 2018-19 at $4.750 million.

Holland will have to make some dance moves to address the overabundance of NTCs and NMCs sooner rather than later, but can probably put the defense on the back burner for another year as part of the long haul plan.

Mike Green is the only pending-UFA defender and since he wasn’t dealt at the deadline as a 32-year-old veteran seeking his first chance at a Cup, should not return to the organization.

Jimmy Howard is the number one goaltender in Detroit for the foreseeable future with one-year remaining on his contract.

As such, finding a competitive backup that could overtake Howard for the number one role remains a priority this offseason, given Jared Coreau‘s less than impressive bid for starting goaltender status.

Speaking of Coreau, the 26-year-old goaltender is a pending-UFA.

If Holland is willing to risk a season worse than this one in an already weak Atlantic Division, then the time is now to make some moves and truly bottom out before rising quickly back to Cup contender status like the great Red Wings teams of the 1990s and 2000s.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Daniel Renouf (RFA), Matt Puempel (RFA), Ben Street (UFA), Eric Tangradi (UFA), Turner Elson (UFA), Tom McCollum (UFA), Zach Nastasiuk (RFA), Matt Lorito (UFA), Matej Machovsky (RFA)

Down the Frozen River Podcast #96- Hart to Hart Talk

Nick and Connor ponder whether or not Taylor Hall is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate, which Western Conference team (NSH, WPG or VGK) will make the Stanley Cup Final and dive into the odds of the Florida Panthers making the playoffs and/or fielding a competitive team. Also, thoughts on the Detroit Red Wings and goaltender interference.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

December 13 – Day 70 – Original Six rivalry

It’s another Wednesday in the NHL, so you know what that means: a supposed rivalry-filled schedule.

Let’s see how that pans out.

Tonight’s schedule starts at 7 p.m. with two contests (the New York Rangers at Ottawa [SN/TVAS] and Dallas at the New York Islanders), followed by Boston at Detroit (NBCSN) an hour later. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Nashville at Vancouver (SN) – gets underway at 10 p.m. to close the game out. All times Eastern.

I had half of today’s games circled on my schedule from the start of the season.

  • New York at Ottawa: It’s a rematch of one of last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals.
  • Boston at Detroit: It’s been a while since we’ve had an Original Six rivalry…

In honor of NBC finally featuring a real rivalry – and what is arguably a bigger game than meets the eye – let’s head off to Motown.

 

It doesn’t seem right that these teams are still in the playoff hunt considering they play in the same division that features Tampa Bay and Toronto, but such is life in the Atlantic Division.

The team currently occupying that third division spot is none other than the 14-9-4 Bruins, who are a full three points behind a Pittsburgh team that would be on the outside looking in if the postseason started today.

Don’t tell anybody, but Boston’s defense is quietly making a name for itself as one of the better corps in the league. Bruins fans witness their team allow only 2.74 goals-per-game, which is the seventh-fewest in the league.

Led by the solid efforts of F David Backes (3.1 hits per game), D Zdeno Chara (1.59 blocks per game) and F Riley Nash (team-leading 32 takeaways), Boston has allowed an average of only 29.85 shots to reach its starting goaltender each game, the fifth-fewest in the NHL.

That makes life pretty easy on 7-8-2 G Tuukka Rask, who doesn’t need all that much help to be exemplary at his job – he just needs rest. Now that Head Coach Bruce Cassidy is accepting the fact that Rask cannot start every game (Rask has started at least 62 games for the past three seasons and watched his save percentage drop) and playing 7-1-2 G Anton Khudobin more often, the 2014 Vezina-winning goalie is beginning to look like himself once again.

Rask has earned a perfect 4-0-0 record over his last five appearances (he relieved Khudobin in Nashville last week for no decision), posting a .955 save percentage and 1.1 GAA in that time to elevate his season numbers to a .912 save percentage and 2.43 GAA, the (t)18th- and sixth-best efforts, respectively, among the 35 goaltenders with at least 11 starts.

But we haven’t even gotten to one of my favorite things about this Bruins team: its penalty kill. Successfully defending 85.54 percent of its infractions, Boston’s PK ranks third-best in the league behind only Los Angeles and San Jose, some very good defensive company.

This is where Rask has truly shined brightest. He’s saved 92.8 percent of all power play shots that make it to his goal, which is the most of any netminder with at least 15 starts to their credit. Of course, he’s also had the luxury of facing only 70 such shots all season thanks to Chara’s team-leading 20 shorthanded blocks.

Meanwhile, the 11-13-6 Red Wings are trying valiantly to outperform everyone’s expectations, as they trail the third place Bruins by only four points. Unfortunately, it’s been an anemic offense that has held them back from glory, as they manage a fourth-worst 2.63 goals-per-game.

If anyone in particular is to blame for Detroit’s struggles, it can’t be the second line – specifically F Dylan Larkin (4-19-23 totals) and F Anthony Mantha (12-10-22). They are the team leaders in almost every offensive department, but have combined for only two game-winners. If that’s not an an indictment on the rest of this offense, I don’t know what is.

Additionally, the Wings also have D Mike Green making considerable contributions from the blue line, as he’s managed a decent 2-16-18 effort that is shaping into the best season of his three-year Detroit career.

Knowing that Green, who is slated to be a free agent this offseason, is having a bit of a resurgence but has nothing to show for his career beyond being named to two NHL First All-Star Teams, it’ll be interesting to see if/when he’ll be traded. It is certainly possible in this division for the Wings to regroup and sneak into the playoffs, but it is looking more and more likely that won’t be the case. Green very well could be on the move at or before February 26’s trade deadline.

If Detroit is going to win this game, it’s going to need its greatest weapon to be firing on all cylinders. Though the Wings struggle on offense as a whole, their power play success rate of 20 percent is actually the 11th-best effort in the league. They face a tall task in the previously mentioned Boston penalty kill, but I think Detroit’s best chance of finding a goal is while a Bruin is in the penalty box.

The power play is Green’s specialty, as he leads the squad with nine man-advantage points. However, all of those are assists. Instead, I’d bank on Mantha and his team-leading five power play goals being Rask’s primary focus this evening.

As long has the Bruins can keep Detroit’s two forwards under control, they should come away with a victory tonight.


Behind First Star of the Game G Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s third shutout of the season, the Tampa Bay Lighting defeated the St. Louis Blues 3-0 at Scottrade Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

For the Bolts’ second game in a row, Second Star F Brayden Point (F Tyler Johnson and F Alex Killorn) provided Tampa Bay’s game-winning goal. This one was struck with 45 seconds remaining in the first period.

Johnson entered the offensive zone with the puck on his stick, but Third Star D Colton Parayko did a good job to force him away from the front of G Jake Allen‘s net. Johnson instead traveled behind the cage, moving from Allen’s left to right before passing from the left face-off circle to Point at the top of the zone. Point ripped a wrist shot through two St. Louis defenders that found the right goal post, but he collected his own rebound to squeeze a shot behind Allen and off the left post.

Tampa’s two insurance goals weren’t struck until the third period. RW Nikita Kucherov (D Mikhail Sergachev) scored the first with 6:23 remaining in regulation, followed by Johnson (Point and D Victor Hedman) burying a wrister into an open net with 22 seconds remaining before the final horn to close out the game.

Vasilevskiy saved all 32 shots he faced for the shutout victory, leaving the loss to Allen, who saved 22-of-24 (.917 save percentage).

Home and road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are getting back into the holiday spirit and exchanging victories. With the road Bolts winning last night, the visitors have pulled back within 15 points of the 39-23-8 hosts.

October 20 – Day 17 – Don’t get confused, Mike Green

You know that feeling you get when 5 p.m. rolls around on a Friday? Allow me to magnify that for you: there’s hockey on tonight!

Specifically, there’s six games happening around the league this evening, starting with two (Vancouver at Buffalo [SN360] and San Jose at New Jersey) at 7 p.m. and another pair (Washington at Detroit and Pittsburgh at Florida [TVAS]) half an hour later. The action continues at 8 p.m. when Minnesota visits Winnipeg before tonight’s nightcap – Montréal at Anaheim (RDS/TSN2) – closes out the festivities two hours later.

I was going to feature G Anders Nilsson‘s return to Buffalo this evening, but since he played in the Canucks’ game in Boston last night and is unlikely to draw back-to-back starts, I’m slightly more drawn to the action in Motown.

 

I know we’ve already watched the Red Wings once this week, but that’s what we get on days when the schedule isn’t exactly filled to the brim with exciting matchups.

#ThanksNHL

And, considering expectations for the Wings this season (and the Capitals too, for that matter), we should enjoy watching them as much as we can while they’re still playing well and staying relevant.

How much longer 4-3-0 Detroit can keep up its solid start is certainly the question, as the Wings are currently the last team in if the playoffs started today (you know how important playoff positioning is in Week 3 of a 27-week season).

Earning them this better-than-expected start has certainly been their offense. It may not be as daunting as the days of old (à la C Steve Yzerman and basically anybody else on his line), but the Wings quietly run a decent top-two lines.

The top line is headlined by W Anthony Mantha (3-4-7 totals) and F Henrik Zetterberg (4-4-8), both of whom are averaging at least a point-per-game. If G Braden Holtby and the Caps can fend them off, a second line that includes the likes of W Justin Abdelkader (2-2-4) and F Dylan Larkin (1-7-8) are right behind to continue applying the pressure.

Two skaters that should also be included in that group are defensemen Mike Green and Nick Jensen. 32-year-old Green, a former first-round selection by the Capitals that played 10 seasons in Washington, actually leads the team in points scored with his 1-8-9 totals, while youngster Jensen has provided four assists from the third defensive pairing.

As Minnesota and Ottawa have already proven this season, teams that sleep on this squad are liable to miss out on points that should be earned against a rebuilding club.

That rebuild is no more apparent than when the Wings take to the power play. No matter how hard Green tries with his team-leading four power play points, the club has only converted four-of-27 man-advantage opportunities for an abysmal 14.8 percent success rate that’s eighth-worst in the league. Fortunately for the Wings, they aren’t exactly playing an exemplary penalty kill this evening (Washington kills only 78.6 percent of opposing power plays, 13th-worst in the NHL), so they might be able to find some success.

Of course, it seems the Capitals are experiencing a bit of a rebuild themselves. Though the offense is still trucking right along at 3.14 goals-per-game, the defense has definitely suffered following the offseason’s transactions.

It is no fault of Holtby’s that Washington is allowing an average of 3.43 goals against-per-game (10th-worst in the league). He’s still trucking along as well as ever with his .931 save percentage and 2.19 GAA, both of which are top-10 efforts in the NHL among goaltenders with at least three starts.

Instead, the Capitals are fielding (Icing? No, that’s a penalty…) a defensive corps that allows an 11th-worst 33.9 shots against-per-game – even with D Brooks Orpik blocking 2.6 shots-per-night. In particular, D Dmitry Orlov has been pretty rough to open the season. He has yet to produce a point after posting 6-27-33 totals last season, and has been on the ice for 11 goals against for a -3 rating (both team-worsts).

It seems losing both D Karl Alzner and D Nate Schmidt is proving a bit tougher to handle than previously hoped – and that was before D Matt Niskanen went down with an upper-body injury last Friday. Fortunately for the Caps, they may not notice those departures as badly this evening considering the Red Wings are not a club that likes to pepper opposing goaltenders.

It’s another game of evenly-matched offenses, which means Detroit should have the upper-hand in this game (that’s weird to say when Holtby is playing for the opposing team) based on its defense. The Wings should be more than able to take two points tonight, especially if G Jimmy Howard rediscovers his form from his first three starts.


Though they needed the shutout, the New York Islanders were able to beat the New York Rangers 4-3 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Islanders came out with guns blazing to start this game, as F Anders Lee (D Ryan Pulock and RW Jordan Eberle) was able to bury a power play wrist shot only 2:40 into the game. That early lead didn’t last long though, as C David Desharnais (D Kevin Shattenkirk and D Marc Staal) scored a tip-in only 2:22 later to level the game at one-all. Much to the Islanders’ delight, that tie lasted only 64 seconds courtesy of Second Star of the Game F Brock Nelson‘s (LW Andrew Ladd) wrister to retake the lead for the Boys from Brooklyn.

All goals are important, but C Mathew Barzal‘s (D Calvin de Haan and F Josh Bailey) wrister 75 seconds into the second period will stick out in the minds of the Islanders for the next couple of weeks. Not only was it the first of Barzal’s NHL career, but it also proved to be the one that ensured the Isles would make it to overtime.

The Rangers’ comeback began in earnest 3:29 into the third period when W Mats Zuccarello (Third Star D Brendan Smith) scored a wrister to pull the Blueshirts back within a goal. Brooklyn people and Manhattanites alike were on the edge of their seats until F Kevin Hayes (RW Jesper Fast and D Ryan McDonagh) leveled the game at three-all with a backhanded shot.

Even though a total of six shots were fired over five minutes of three-on-three overtime and the Islanders played the final 79 seconds on the power play, neither club could find the golden goal, forcing the first shootout of the 2017-’18 DtFR Game of the Day series.

  1. Zuccarello drew the first chance to fire at G Jaroslav Halak, and he made good on the opportunity to give the Blueshirts an early lead.
  2. Eberle tried to match it against G Henrik Lundqvist, and he did. 1-1 after two shooters.
  3. Next up for the Rangers was C Mika Zibanejad, but Halak was able to make the save.
  4. With the opportunity to take the lead, Head Coach Doug Weight sent out First Star C John Tavares. The captain converted the break to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead.
  5. Tavares’ goal forced a miss-and-lose situation for Desharnais and the Rangers, but the center wasn’t able to get past Halak. That gave the Islanders a 4-3 victory on a 2-1 shootout.

Halak earned the victory after saving 38-of-41 shots faced (.927 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Lundqvist, who saved 35-of-38 (.921).

The Isles’ road victory snaps a two-game winning streak by the 10-5-2 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but the hosts still have a six-point advantage.

October 5 – Day Two – Pour one out for The Joe

Opening day is always fun (congrats to the Leafs, Blues, Oilers and Flyers for achieving 1-0-0 records, by the way), but I think its safe to say that I actually get more excited for the second day when there’s far more action (don’t even get me started about the first Saturday of the season!).

Tonight, there are eight games on the schedule, starting with three (Nashville at Boston, Montréal at Buffalo [RDS/TSN2] and Colorado at the New York Rangers) at 7 p.m. and a pair (Washington at Ottawa [RDS2] and Minnesota at Detroit [NBCSN]) half an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Pittsburgh at Chicago (SN360), while 10 p.m. features the evening’s co-nightcaps: Arizona at Anaheim and Philadelphia at Los Angeles (NBCSN). All times Eastern.

There’s certainly some fantastic games on the schedule, but one in particular has caught my eye.

 

Yes, we all know Detroit missed the playoffs last season for the first time in 25 years. That narrative was played out for the entirety of the 2016-’17 campaign.

Unfortunately, I think that story overshadowed another equally important one, especially among out-of-town fans: for the first time since December 27, 1979, the Red Wings will no longer call Joe Louis Arena home.

I cannot say I ever had the pleasure of walking into The Joe. Heck, I’ve never even been to Detroit. But for those who have, I can only imagine it was a wonderfully magical experience. Few buildings currently standing in the NHL have borne witness to such prolonged greatness.

C Steve Yzerman scored quite a few of his 692 goals between those unpredictable boards, and Nicklas Lidstrom year in and year out proved his defensive prowess by winning seven Norris Trophies and contributing to four Stanley Cup-winning efforts.

Manny Legace and Chris Osgood are just two of the many heralded goalies to man The Joe’s posts, while few defended his designated area like Bob Probert and his beloved penalty box. In fact, after spending so much of his hockey career defending his fellow Red Wings from Wendel Clark and RW Tie Domi and assuming his spot in the sin bin, Probert’s ashes were scattered in the arena’s penalty box following the club’s final home game last season.

But, unless something dramatic happens to Little Caesars Arena before 7:30 p.m. tonight, the time for Joe Louis Arena (and The Palace at Auburn Hills, for all you basketball fans) has come and gone.

And so, a new chapter in the story that is the Detroit Red Wings begins tonight as this team adjusts to its new home and begins work on building “Hockeytown Dynasty 2.0.”

Unfortunately, I don’t think that chapter gets a good starts tonight, as the Wild should be more than able to spoil the arena’s Grand Opening. Minnesota returns much of a roster that won 12-straight games en route to a 106-point season, including G Devan Dubnyk (40-19-5 record on a .923 save percentage and 2.25 GAA last season), F Mikael Granlund (26-43-69 totals in 2016-’17) and D Ryan Suter (allowed only six even-strength or shorthanded goals last season).

For Detroit, G Jimmy Howard will surely get the opening night start and will be under heavy pressure all night. Even though the Wings added D Trevor Daley, Howard may be the only line of defense considering how much Detroit’s blue line struggled last season. Knowing the Wild fired 30.8 shots-per-game last season, he may be in for a long night.

Offensively, the Red Wings have two sneaky-good top lines in Tomas TatarHenrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist and Anthony ManthaDylan LarkinMartin Frk, but the real question will be if these six have enough firepower in them to keep this team relevant all season against some of the best defenses. This game should provide an effective litmus test in determining just that.

I feel pretty safe in predicting a Wild win tonight, especially when seeing some bookies listing Minnesota at a -140 favorite.

March 27 – Day 159 – Red hot

It happened again. The very day we detest the most: Monday.

Fortunately, the NHL is a true pal and hooked us up with a half-dozen hockey games to make it better. The action starts with three contests (Detroit at Carolina, Florida at Buffalo and Nashville at the New York Islanders [SN]) at 7 p.m., followed by Chicago at Tampa Bay (NBCSN/TVAS) half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Arizona at St. Louis, trailed an hour later by Colorado at Calgary, tonight’s nightcap. All times eastern.

A game of note this evening is the Red Wings‘ first of two straight visits to PNC Arena, as this is the game that had to be postponed in mid-December due to an issue with the arena’s surface cooling equipment.

Since we haven’t featured the Hurricanes all season and they’re quietly in contention for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, let’s make a trip to Raleigh!

 

You may not believe me, but it’s true: 33-27-13 Carolina is still in the playoff conversation with nine games left in their regular season. It may not look like it at quick glance since the Hurricanes have only 79 points, but that’s due in part to the reason they are active tonight.

Eleventh-place Carolina has two games-in-hand on 39-30-6 Boston (84 points) because of its rescheduled contest against Detroit. Should the Canes have played that game and lost, they’d be in much worse shape. Instead, they’ll trail the Bruins by only a point if they win both their games-in-hand and could be in prime position to end their seven-season playoff drought.

Of course, that ignores what the ninth and 10th place Islanders and Lightning do, but I don’t see them featured today!

Much of the reason the Canes are in the position they’re in right now is due to their three-game winning streak and their 7-0-3 record in their last 10 games. Carolina has been an offensive juggernaut since March 9, as their 37 goals for is the highest total in the league since then.

Though Jeff Skinner and his 54 points have been the Hurricanes‘ offensive leader for the entirety of the season, he’s been joined of late by rookie Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm, who both have 11 points during this recent streak.

Don’t read too much into that last graf though. Skinner is still the primary threat for 16-20-8 Petr Mrazek to focus on tonight. 10 of the left wing’s dozen points since March 9 have been goals, doubling Aho’s five and tying Nikita Kucherov for most in the league over that stretch.

To focus on Aho for a minute, the Fin has made a living on the power play with his five man-advantage points during this run – a top-five effort in that time-frame. That success has led the Canes to a 28% success rate with the extra man since earlier this month, the eighth-best mark in the NHL in that time and second-best in a dominant Metropolitan Division that features some elite offenses.

This offensive prowess is a change from what has been Carolina‘s priority all season: defense. In fact, the Canes have allowed only 203 goals against this year, which ties for the 16th-best mark in the NHL.

Nothing tells this story better than Carolina‘s 85.3% season penalty kill rate, the second-best mark in the league. The PK has been a major point of focus for second-year defenseman Jaccob Slavin. The Hurricanes selected him from Colorado College in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, and all he’s done is lead the team with 37 shorthanded shot blocks this year. Not bad, kid (he’s almost exactly three months younger than me, I get to call him kid).

In fact, Slavin and Co. has been so good, 24-20-11 Cam Ward has faced only 155 shots against while his club is shorthanded, the lowest total among the 30 netminders with at least 39 appearances.

Other than Joe Louis Arena’s farewell season, the biggest story about the 30-32-12 Red Wings this season has been the prediction-turned-reality that they’ll miss the postseason for the first time in 25 years.

But that doesn’t mean the Wings are entirely incapable of good hockey. Though not as impressive as the Canes‘, Detroit is also riding a three-game streak of earning at least a point, and has a 4-1-1 record since March 16.

All but one of those six contests have been one-goal affairs, and it’s been a resurgent 9-8-1 Jimmy Howard, who just celebrated his 33rd birthday yesterday, that has led the charge. Sidelined for much of the season with a knee injury, he’s earned a .953 save percentage and 1.29 GAA since mid-March, the sixth and seventh-best marks in the league, respectively, during that stretch.

Howard has been especially exceptional when faced with an opposing power play. Though he’s faced 12 man-advantages since March 16, he has yet to allow a power play goal after saving all 12 shots he’s faced while his club is shorthanded.

As of publication of this article, it remains to be seen if Jeff Blashill will continue alternating goaltenders this evening. It’d be an odd time to stop the recent practice since the Wings played – and won – an overtime game yesterday before traveling from Michigan to North Carolina. I’d bank on seeing Mrazek in net this evening.

Offensively, nothing paints a picture like a 14% season success rate on the power play. It’s the second-worst rate in the NHL that still features Thomas Vanek – a current member of the Florida Panthers – as the third-best point-earner. Frans Nielsen and Henrik Zetterberg have been able to create symmetry at times this year, but now is not one of those moments. They’ve earned a combined three power play points since March 16. Three.

Thanks to the postponement of what became today’s game, these clubs have only met once this season. In what was the Canes‘ final visit to The Joe, Dylan Larkin scored two of Detroit‘s goals to lead the Wings to a 4-2 victory on October 25.

These teams will complete their three-game season series tomorrow night on the same surface, which adds even a bit more intrigue to tonight’s game.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Carolina‘s Skinner (30 goals for 54 points [both lead the team]) and Slavin (149 blocks for +19 [both lead the team]) & Detroit‘s Zetterberg (46 assists [eighth-most in the league]).

There’s not few, if any, hotter than the Hurricanes right now, and they’re doing it at the right time of the year. Especially given the fact that the Wings were involved in an overtime game yesterday, I like Carolina to continue its playoff push with a win today.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bryan Campbell (1944-) – Though this center spent most of his career in the WHA, he began his professional hockey career in the NHL. He played five seasons in the league, and spent most of that time in Chicago. He scored 106 points over 260 games, including a decent 1970-’71 season with 17 goals for 54 points.
  • Dustin Byfuglien (1985-) – It’s hard to believe, but this season marks this defenseman’s seventh season with the Thrashers/Jets organization. It seems just yesterday he was hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head with the 2010 Blackhawks.

Last night’s 6-3 DtFR Game of the Day Duck victory over the Rangers was a big one, as they converted a game-in-hand on their fellow competitors for the Pacific Division title for two points to create a two-point lead with seven games remaining to be played.

The busiest period was the first, as it featured four goals. The icebreaker belonged to Rick Nash (Marc Staal and Mika Zibanejad) and New York on a wrist shot 5:54 after the initial puck drop. That lead didn’t last too long though, as Third Star of the Game Patrick Eaves (Second Star Cam Fowler and First Star Ryan Getzlaf) pulled Anaheim even 3:01 later on a wrister. Once again the Blueshirts took a lead, this time off a Derek Stepan (Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello) slap shot, but the Ducks had another answer. Ryan Kesler (Getzlaf and Fowler) scored a power play tip-in with two minutes remaining in the frame to tie the game at two-all, which held into the first intermission.

At the 9:39 mark of the second period, Anaheim finally claimed its first lead of the game when Josh Manson (Getzlaf) scored a wrister. Making that goal even more impressive, the Ducks were shorthanded. That didn’t seem to phase New York though, as Brady Skjei (Jimmy Vesey and Zibanejad) buried only his fifth goal of the season 3:31 later to pull the Rangers even at three-all. That score held into the second intermission.

Whatever Randy Carlyle said in the dressing room, it worked because Anaheim buried three tallies and held the Rangers scoreless for the final 20 minutes. Andrew Cogliano (Kesler) takes credit for the game-winner 2:19 after the beginning of the final frame, followed only 2:04 later by an insurance tally from Eaves (Rickard Rakell and Getzlaf). To ensure the Rangers could not stage a late comeback, Nick Ritchie (Corey Perry) scored a wrister on an empty net with 98 ticks remaining on the clock to clinch the win.

Jonathan Bernier earned the victory after saving 25-of-28 shots faced (89.3%), leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 28-of-33 (84.8%).

Thanks to the Ducks defending home ice, hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series now trial the 81-57-23 road teams by only a lone point.

January 25 – Day 102 – Red and blue aren’t just election rivals

Tuesday’s gone, but Wednesday is here – and brings with it some more hockey games. Toronto at Detroit (SN) gets things started at 7 p.m., followed an hour later by Philadelphia at the New York Rangers (NBCSN/TVAS). We move west of the Mississippi River at 9:30 p.m. with Vancouver at Colorado (SN360), with tonight’s nightcap – Edmonton at Anaheim – starting half an hour later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Toronto at Detroit: Simply calling this an Original Six game is an insult to years of deep rivalry.
  • Philadelphia at New York: Just like other teams in their respective towns, the Flyers and Rangers have a history of not getting along.

As much as I dislike featuring the same team two days in a row, Detroit has another big game tonight against the Maple Leafs. Time to break out the red sweaters, boys! You’ve got some rivals coming to town!

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To put things simply, if the Bruins and Canadiens didn’t have their deep playoff history, this would be the rivalry everyone in hockey would look forward to.

Ever since the Red Wings were formed, these clubs have clashed both on the ice as well as in the stands, as Detroit and Toronto are separated by only 210 miles. They’ve faced one another 23 times in the playoffs – including seven meetings in the Stanley Cup finals – with the Wings owning a one-playoff game advantage with a 59-58 record.

Toronto enters tonight with a 22-14-9 record and in possession of the second wildcard in the Eastern Conference, their best positioning in the standings in a long time. They’ve found that success by playing well on the offensive end to score 139 goals in 45 games – the sixth-best rate in the league.

When half of your team’s top-six scorers are rookies, the rebuild looks like it is in good shape. That’s the case in Toronto, as youngster Mitch Marner leads his club with 39 points. The same goes for goalscoring, as first-overall pick Auston Matthews owns that title for the Leafs with his 22 tallies.

Just as Detroit struggles without a reliable power play, Toronto excels with their impressive man-advantage. Led by William Nylander, yet another rookie, and his 15 power play points, the Maple Leafs score on 24.1% of their extra-man opportunities – the second-best rate in the NHL. Nazem Kadri takes credit for the most man-advantage goals on the club with 10 to his credit.

Toronto has also found great success with their other special team, refusing to yield a goal on 85.2% of opposing power plays – the fourth-best rate in the league. Roman Polak gets to take a lot of the credit with his club-topping 24 shorthanded blocks.

Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto have been alternating between playoff qualification and ninth in the Eastern Conference for the last couple of weeks, and that trend could continue tonight. A loss by Toronto opens them up to falling out of the playoff bracket, while earning only a point would improve them into third place in the Atlantic Division, replacing the Bruins.

Things haven’t quite been going 20-19-9 Detroit‘s way – especially lately, as they’ve fallen in overtime in their last three games. For the first time in ages, the Wings find themselves in second-to-last in the Atlantic Division and third-to-last in the Eastern Conference, yet they enter play tonight trailing the second wildcard by only four points.

The main reason for their struggles has been their uninspiring offense, which has managed only 117 goals – the seventh-fewest in the league. That being said, Captain Henrik Zetterberg has done all he can to fight that trend with his team-leading 33 points, as have Dylan Larkin and the injured Thomas Vanek, who co-lead the team with a dozen tallies.

One of the biggest reasons for the Wings‘ lack of offensive success ranks 30th in the league. Detroit is home to the worst power play in the league, converting only 11.3% of their opportunities. Frans Nielsen has tried his hardest to resolve that issue, but his club-leading eight power play points simply aren’t cutting it. Neither are Larkin and Vanek’s three man-advantage goals.

A win tonight would not pull the Wings into playoff position, but it can propel them all the way from 14th to 10th. Even if they continue their recent trend of forcing overtime before losing, they make a significant climb up the table, advancing into 11th.

These clubs have only met once this season, and it was not under usual circumstances. On New Year’s Day, Detroit and Toronto celebrated the 100th anniversary of the NHL by playing the Centennial Classic at BMO Field (home pitch of Toronto FC). The Leafs won that game 5-4 in overtime.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Detroit‘s Luke Glendening (108 hits [leads the team]) and Zetterberg (33 points, including 24 assists for a +9 [all lead the team]) & Toronto‘s Frederik Andersen (20 wins [10th-most in the NHL]) and Matthews (22 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]).

Vegas has marked the Wings a +116 underdog in tonight’s game, and that might be giving Joe Louis Arena a little too much credit. Toronto has proven they have the ability to compete with some of the best teams in the league, and they’ll want to ensure they maintain their position in the standings with a victory tonight. I don’t see the Leafs falling this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Chris Chelios (1962-) – Drafted 40th-overall by Montréal in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman pulled managed simply a Hall of Fame career over 26 seasons. He played most of his games with Chicago, but spent more seasons in Detroit. Regardless of if he’s remembered more as a Hawk or Wing, he played in 11 All Star games and hoisted just as many Stanley Cups as Norris Trophies: three.
  • Esa Tikkanen (1965-) – Edmonton picked this left wing in the fourth-round of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, and he returned them with four Stanley Cups. He won his fifth and final in 1994 with the Rangers.
  • Randy McKay (1967-) – A sixth-round selection by Detroit in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing spent most of his career in New Jersey. He won two Stanley Cups over his 15-season career, both with the Devils.
  • Jared Cowen (1991-) – Although drafted by Ottawa ninth-overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, this blueliner currently finds himself out of a job after losing his grievance hearing with Toronto and subsequently being cut. He has 249 games played over six seasons of experience.

For the third time in four days, the DtFR Game of the Day required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. That winner last night proved to be the Boston, who beat the Red Wings 4-3 in overtime.

Of the three regulation periods, the first was the busiest. It got off to a quick start when Kevan Miller (Tim Schaller and Dominic Moore) scored his first goal of the season only 3:39 after the initial puck drop. The Bruins‘ lead lasted only 7:20 until Andreas Athanasiou (Third Star of the Game Mike Green and Niklas Kronwall) leveled with a snap shot. First Star Brad Marchand (Ryan Spooner and Second Star David Pastrnak) reclaimed the lead for Boston with 2:26 remaining in the period with his power play wrister, setting the score at 2-1 going into the first intermission.

The second period absolutely belonged to the Red Wings, beginning with Green’s (Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist) tip-in at the 6:25 mark to level the match. With 9:09 remaining in the period, Tomas Tatar (Zetterberg) provided Detroit its first lead with a strong wrister.

The game was tied again at the 8:20 mark of the final frame, courtesy of Marchand (Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug). As neither team was able to break the draw, the game advanced into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.

That extra time nearly resulted in a shootout if not for Pastrnak’s (David Krejci and Brandon Carlo) slap shot with 47 seconds remaining. That tally earned the Bruins the extra point in the standings.

Tuukka Rask earned the victory by saving 23-of-26 shots faced (88.5%), leaving the overtime loss to Jared Coreau, who saved 45-of-49 (91.8%).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now on a two-game winning streak thanks to Boston‘s victory. Hosts now own a six-point advantage over the visitors with their 54-34-16 record in the series.

January 24 – Day 101 – Motown vs. Beantown

It’s time for some Tuesday hockey. We’ve got a nice schedule, starting with four games at 7 p.m. (Detroit at Boston [SN], Los Angeles at New Jersey, Columbus at the New York Islanders and St. Louis at Pittsburgh [NBCSN]), followed half an hour later by another pair (Calgary at Montréal [RDS] and Washington at Ottawa [RDS2]). Two more games drop the puck at the top of the hour (Buffalo at Nashville [TVAS] and San Jose at Winnipeg), with tonight’s co-nightcaps (Tampa Bay at Chicago and Minnesota at Dallas) waiting until 8:30 p.m. to get underway. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Detroit at Boston: Not only is this an Original Six rivalry, but the Wings edged the Bruins for a playoff spot by a tiebreaker last season.
  • Minnesota at Dallas: Speaking of the playoffs, the Stars bested the Wild in six games last season.

Based on their position in the standings, the contest occurring at the TD Garden this evening could be one of the best of the night. To New England we go!

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Detroit‘s impressive 25-season streak of qualifying to for the playoffs is not only well known in hockey circles, but across most sports fans.

Outside of Motown, that fact is not more known than in Boston. You see, both the Bruins and the Red Wings finished last season with 93 points, tied for third place in the Atlantic Division. In fact, 42-31-9 Boston actually won one more game than the 41-30-11 Wings.

Even though the Bruins won the season series 3-1-0, the first tiebreaker in the NHL pertains to the total regulation and overtime victories by a club, and it was there that the Wings found their playoff qualification. They won one more game before going to the shootout than Boston to earn their playoff bid.

If Detroit had not won that tiebreaker, only then would the series record between the two clubs have come into play and the Bruins would have faced Tampa Bay.

Nowadays, Detroit is currently riding a two-game streak of overtime losses and has a 20-19-8 record, good enough for sixth place in the Atlantic Division. Part of the reason they find themselves at that spot in the standings is due to their lackluster offense, which has managed only 114 goals, the seventh-fewest in the NHL.

Although Thomas Vanek is tied for the team lead in points, he’s questionable to play tonight’s game with a lower-body injury. That leaves Henrik Zetterberg, who also has 31 points in his pocket, to lead the Red Wings into battle. It’s a similar situation in the goal scoring department, where Vanek’s effort is tied with Dylan Larkin at a dozen tallies apiece.

The number one reason for Detroit‘s offensive struggles is their anemic power play. Even though they’ve earned the seventh-most man-advantages, they’ve converted only 11.3% into goals – the worst in the league. Frans Nielsen has tried all he can to help the cause with his eight power play points, but the Wings haven’t been able to find a consistent scoring threat as Larkin and the injured Vanek lead the club with a measly three power play goals apiece.

Another overtime loss won’t do Detroit any good. If they want any chance of continuing their impressive playoff streak, they’re going to need wins. A victory tonight is certainly a step in the right direction, as they would improve from 13th to 10th, trailing second wild card Philadelphia by two points.

In their way stands their hosts, the 23-21-6 Bruins. Boston currently finds themselves in fourth place in the Atlantic and on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs are concerned, due in part to losing their last two games. Similar to Detroit, their issue has been offense.

Last season, the Bruins managed to score 236 goals, lightning the lamp nearly three times per game. Things haven’t gone so smoothly this year, as Boston only has 121 tallies to their credit in 50 games – the seventh-worst scoring rate in the NHL. A struggling offense hasn’t held Brad Marchand back, though, as his 45 points are tops on the team by a long shot. When he’s not burying the puck, he’s busy setting up youngster David Pastrnak, whose 19 tallies are the best in Beantown.

The similarities between these two offenses continue with in the special teams. Successful on only 16.9% of attempts, Boston ranks 10th-worst in the league on the power play. Torey Krug has tried his hardest with his 13 power play points, as have Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, who both have five power play goals.

Where the Bruins separate themselves is with their powerful penalty kill, where they rank second-best in the league. Led by Zdeno Chara‘s 25 shorthanded blocks, Boston refuses to yield a power play goal 86.6% of the time.

The Bruins don’t need much to get back into playoff position, but nobody plays for simply an overtime loss. One point would propel Boston into eighth place for the second wildcard, but a victory would qualify them for third-place in the division.

Boston won their series against Detroit last season, and they’re already on their way to repeating that this year. They’ve met twice this season, and the Bruins have a 1-0-1. They last met Wednesday in Detroit, where the Wings won 6-5 on a shootout.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (45 points [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]) and Tuukka Rask (five shutouts [tied for second-most in the league] and a 2.11 GAA [fifth-best in the NHL] for 22 wins [sixth-most in the league]) & Detroit‘s Danny DeKeyser (94 blocks [leads the team]) and Anthony Mantha (+8 [leads the team]).

It’s tough to pick against a goaltender like Rask, especially since the penalty kill in front of him will face no pressure from Detroit‘s power play. The Bruins should earn a victory this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Gus Mortson (1925-2015) – This defenseman was so physical, he started a fight in one of his eight All Star appearances. Although he spent most his time in Chicago, he won all four of his Stanley Cups in Toronto, where he started his career.
  • Mark Reeds (1960-2015) – St. Louis drafted this right wing in the fifth round of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his eight-season career. By the time he retired, he’d notched 159 points.
  • Tom Kostopoulos (1979-) – A seventh-rounder picked by Pittsburgh in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, he played 630 games (most of which in Los Angeles) over 11 seasons (most with the Penguins). He made good friends with penalty box attendants, serving 723 penalty minutes – 1.15 minutes per game.

First Star of the Game Frederik Andersen didn’t have to empty his net a single time in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, leading his Maple Leafs to a 4-0 shutout victory over the visiting Flames.

Third Star Mitch Marner (Nikita Zaitsev) was the first to tickle the twine, giving Toronto a 1-0 lead with his tip-in only 61 seconds before going to the dressing room for the first intermission.

If the first period allowed only one goal, it seems only natural that the second would yield two. Unfortunately for Calgary, neither would be in their favor. Second Star Nazem Kadri (William Nylander) takes credit for the first tally seven minutes after returning to the ice with his wrister, and the Leafs improved their lead to 3-0 with 3:05 remaining in the frame on a Zach Hyman (Martin Marincin) shorthanded backhander.

The theme of matching goals to the period did not continue, but Toronto didn’t mind. Kadri (Marner and Zaitsev) buried his second tally of the game at the 2:21 mark on the power play to set the 4-0 final score.

Andersen earned the shutout victory after saving all 26 shots he faced, leaving the loss to Brian Elliott, who saved 24-of-28 (85.7%).

In addition to breaking the two-game streak of games requiring extra time, Toronto‘s victory also snapped a three-game winning streak for visitors in the DtFR Game of the Day series. With a 53-34-16 record, featured home teams now have a five-point lead over the visitors.